Information Overload 101 for 2012

It’s a lot easier to experience information overload than it is to study up on it. For one thing, so much has been written in the past few years that it’s almost become its own form of overload.

So if you’re looking to understand the state of the challenge—what we know, what’s being done, what sorts of solutions are working—I’d like to suggest a few places to begin.

The Information Overload Research Group got its start on the campus of Microsoft Research in 2007, and will produce its second conference on February 25 in San Francisco (to which you’re invited). The organization’s web site: iorgforum.org

Jonathan Spira (a fellow director of IORG) is the author of Overload! How Too Much Information is Hazardous to Your Organization, one of the best overviews of the scope and cost of information overload—approaching $1 trillion a year in the U.S. (Read my earlier summary.) Spira also runs a web site as a companion to the book (overloadstories.com) and contributes to the Basex blog.

When he’s not curating TED conferences, Chris Anderson works to change our thinking about email. He’s blogged on the topic and written an “Email Charter” intended as a pledge to reform bad habits. (Read more in Fast Company.)

About a year ago, Derek Dean and Caroline Webb wrote a piece for the McKinsey Quarterly called “Recovering from Information Overload.” In it, they debunk multitasking as damaging to productivity and creativity—and even relationships and health. They outline a coping strategy that involves focusing, filtering and forgetting. And they say that resetting the culture to healthier norms is a critical new responsibility for 21st-century executives.

In a piece called “Are we on information overload?,” Salon interviews David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, and author of a new book called Too Big to Know. Weinberger talks about “networked facts,” the evolution of filters, and his optimistic view of the future: “In the sciences and humanities, it’s hard to find somebody who claims the Internet is making him or her stupid, even among those who claim the Internet is making us stupid. And I believe this is the greatest time in human history.”

Clay Johnson is co-founder of Blue State Digital (the firm that managed Barack Obama’s online candidacy). He’s out with a new book called The Information Diet—his prescription for consciously controlling our information intake. An interview with Johnson (“Don’t blame the information for your bad habits”) was published this month in O’Reilly Radar: “Information overload is the wrong term because it blames the information. . . . We never say someone suffering from obesity is suffering from food overload. . . . Information overload’s message is, ‘put these tools on your computer, and you’ll better manage the information.’ This kind of practice would be like trying to go on a food diet by buying a different kind of refrigerator, or trying to become a professional athlete by relying solely on the purchase of running shoes. The problem is, we don’t need to manage the information. We need to manage our consumption of it.” (Watch the video. Johnson was also interviewed on NPR.)

Seattle health and science writer Sondra Kornblatt (Brain Fitness for Women), says women especially are under “insane stress”—from both information overload and expectation overload (which includes consuming all that information). In an essay in the Huffington Post, Kornblatt says the antidotes include drinking a glass of water when you first wake up, moving more, and—you may like this—eating chocolate.

But wait—there’s more. Actually, you’ll have to wait. That’s enough to consume at one sitting. Next week, I’ll post another half dozen articles that will help further your understanding of information overload.


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1 Comment

Filed under Impacts on society, Information Overload Research Group, Pearls

One response to “Information Overload 101 for 2012

  1. Excellent summary of the most current thinking on information overload. The problem however is that we still do not have an explanation of information overload from the perspective of neuroscience, and that is essential before we can philosophize about the issue.

    As you know, the concept of information overload represents a ‘dark side’ of the internet, a topic in tech culture that seems to be as popular as vampires are in popular culture. What is remarkable is that very few if any popular or academic comments or tomes on the subject are rooted in the neuroscience of attention and decision making.

    Linked below is a new definition of information overload from the perspective of affective neuroscience, a branch of neuroscience that focuses on how affect or ‘emotion’ underscores all decisions. The definition is extracted from a much more encompassing e-book on the psychology of the web that is linked below. The e-book is based on the work of the affective neuroscientist Kent Berridge of the University of Michigan, who was kind to vet the work for accuracy and has endorsed it.

    Rather than asking you to slog through the darn thing, I have three page summary of my argument from the book can be found on p. 271.

    The book of course is free, as it is wise to not quit your day job when writing such things.

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/69880622/One-Track-Minds-The-Surprising-Psychology-of-the-Internet

    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~berridge/

    Thanks!

    Art Marr
    New Orleans

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